Ryan Howard is expected to make his season debut for the Phillies in Friday's series opener against the Braves (Philliedelphia/Kevin Durso)
There's really no sense in going through the numbers again. You all get it by now. The last-place Phillies have a lot of work - probably too much work - to do to keep their streak of division wins alive.
That being said, the way to begin that work is by beating division opponents. Their last six games have been against the Marlins and Mets. Their record: 1-5. So, things continue to spiral downhill.
And believe it or not, the Phillies probably have yet to play the best team in this stretch of division foes. They don't face the NL East leading Nationals, so that team would be the Braves, who make their first trip to Citizens Bank Park this season.
The Braves are resting comfortably in third place in the NL East with plenty of time left to erase their six-game deficit.
The Braves lineup certainly is not suffering right now. All of the pieces are in place and will be factors in this series for sure. You can start with All-Stars Dan Uggla and Chipper Jones. There is still a chance that Michael Bourn could be added to the All-Star roster as an injury replacement after losing out on the Final Vote.
Add in players like Freddie Freeman, Brian McCann, Martin Prado and Jason Heyward and this is a loaded Braves lineup.
On the mound, the Braves also have a relief core that can dominate. Craig Kimbrel is an All-Star as well as the closer, and despite missing an injured Jonny Venters, they still have Eric O'Flaherty and Kris Medlen providing strong relief.
Here are the pitching matchups for the series:
In the opener, Kyle Kendrick (2-8, 5.35 ERA) goes against Tim Hudson (6-4, 3.87 ERA) - Kendrick allowed five runs in the first inning before settling in to hold the Pirates scoreless through his last six innings. He suffered the loss anyway, marking his fourth loss in his last five starts. In his career against the Braves (15 games, 10 starts), Kendrick is 6-1 with a 2.53 ERA.
Hudson allowed six runs (five earned) over six innings in a loss to the Nationals. Hudson had won three of his previous four starts before that, allowing three runs of less in each. In his career against the Phillies (22 starts), Hudson is 7-8 with a 3.71 ERA.
In the middle game, Joe Blanton (7-7, 4.85 ERA) faces Tommy Hanson (9-5, 3.70 ERA) - Blanton allowed three runs over six innings to keep the Phillies in their finale with the Marlins on Sunday. He would take the loss, his first since June 3. In his career against the Braves (12 games, 11 starts), Blanton is 2-4 with a 4.65 ERA.
Hanson suffered the loss in his last start allowing four runs over seven innings to the Cubs. Hanson had picked up the win in four of his last five starts and had not suffered a loss since May 28. In his career against the Phillies (eight starts), Hanson is 1-2 with a 2.93 ERA.
In the finale, Vance Worley (4-5, 3.46 ERA) gets the start against Jair Jurrjens (2-2, 5.19 ERA) - Worley only lasted four innings and allowed six runs in a loss to the Mets on Tuesday. Worley has just one win in his six starts since coming off the DL. In his career against the Braves (four games, two starts), Worley is 1-0 with a 1.38 ERA.
Jurrjens allowed three runs, all unearned, in five innings in a win against the Cubs on Monday. Since losing two of his first four starts, Jurrjens has limited opponents to six runs (three earned) in his last three starts. In his career against the Phillies (11 starts), Jurrjens is 5-3 with a 2.45 ERA.
July 6 - Phillies 5, Braves 3
July 7 - Phillies 3, Braves 7
July 8 - Phillies 2, Braves 4
This is a must-sweep series for the Phillies. But with the way their season has gone, it's hard to see them sweeping anybody at the moment.
I'll give the opener to the Phillies for two reasons. One, the return of Ryan Howard should be a spark. Two, Kyle Kendrick has a good track record against the Braves. If Howard's return starts similarly like Chase Utley's did last Wednesday, at the very least the Phillies have Kendrick going instead of using the bullpen for an entire game.
The next two games are tough to judge. First off, it's unknown if the Phillies will rest Howard and Utley on the same day, but both will see a day off during the series whether it's Saturday or Sunday.
Still, even though they are must-wins for the Phillies, they have yet to deliver in that spot this season. At this point, it's tough to think they will do that with the break looming. Perhaps the break is the best thing for this team, but that remains to be seen as well. For now, set expectations low and hope for the best. That's the best advice for Phillies fans this morning.